After opening the season with wins over No. 19 Virginia Tech and No. 7 Texas A&M, Alabama has beaten four straight opponents that have a combined 6-18 record.
So, in order to keep players motivated and to avoid letdowns, the Crimson Tide employs a strategy of making every opponent faceless.
This week’s faceless competition is the Arkansas Razorbacks (3-4, 0-4 SEC), who’ll limp into Tuscaloosa following a 52-7 drubbing at the hands of South Carolina.
The Razorbacks are in their first year under new coach Bret Bielema, and it hasn't been the smoothest transition. Arkansas has lost four straight and it doesn't appear to be getting any better with the top-ranked Tide (6-0, 3-0 SEC) on the horizon Saturday at 6 p.m. in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
“It’s never about them. It’s never about the opponent we’re facing,” Tide quarterback AJ McCarron said. “Coach Saban likes to say they are faceless, and they are. It’s about us and about what we do and how we take everything on the field. It doesn’t matter who we play. We’re trying to play the way we’re capable of playing.”
Last week against the Gamecocks, the Hogs were the definition of one dimensional. Led by true freshman Alex Collins, the Razorbacks pounded away for 218 rushing yards, but totaled only 30 passing yards.
“We don’t really want to look at those results,” Tide coach Nick Saban said. “We’d rather look at technically what they’re capable of doing and what they’ve done well as a team. I think the game last week, they still ran the ball effectively. … We’re more concerned about how we play, how we progress, how we improve as a team and have total respect for Arkansas’ players and what their capabilities are.”
Saban said he feels the Razorbacks will be one of the more challenging opponents the Tide has faced all year because of their ability to run the ball. Collins is the second leading rusher in the SEC and is ranked No. 11 in the nation with 720 yards and four touchdowns. Sophomore Jonathan Williams had added 571 yards and four touchdowns.
Collins’ play has grabbed the attention of the Tide’s defenders.
“Just to be patient like that, coming from high school, it’s impressive to stay behind your blocks,” Tide linebacker Trey DePriest said. “In high school he’s probably bigger than faster than everybody else and you really have to be patient to make that step and come to college, stay behind the blocks and have the vision that he’s got.”
As a whole, the Razorbacks’ rushing attack is good for fifth in the SEC at 216.3 yards a game.
This will be the first time the Tide has faced a power running team this season.
DePriest is excited for some old school, smash-mouth football.
“That’s what we pride ourselves on, being a hit-you-in-the-mouth, dominant-type defense, and they pride themselves on running the ball and trying to get 300 yards on you,” DePriest said. “It’s going to be a battle.”
Still, the Hogs are a conference opponent, and the Tide players understand even they can be tested on any given Saturday. Starting slow isn’t a part of the plan this week.
“That’s what coach Saban says. We take it to them early then it’ll be our game,” Tide right guard Anthony Steen said. “We’ve got to go out there and take it to them early and make sure they know that they don’t have a chance.”